Over the decades of films showcasing car chases, a few reoccurring situations seem to pop up. Since car chases are most often used as a climax to a film or to move the story along, things like realism and physics often have to take a back seat to convenience and plot. Even some of the greatest car chase scenes on film fall victim to a cliche or two.
It has happened so often that some things are often overlooked by the audience or it's just understood that this is how things work in the fictional movie world. Here are some of the most often used car chase cliches.
Anti-Lock Brakes and Traction Control don't exist
A chase wouldn't be a chase without tires screeching and brakes squealing, but pesky safety enhancements have made driving a lot more boring than it used to be. Since the invention of antilock brakes, it takes a lot to get a modern car to car to conjure up the unmistakable sound of rubber being dragged to a stop over asphalt. And traction control computers make sure that your wheels never have to work harder than neccessary to get the car moving. Luckily, movie directors have sound editors to help put the excitement back in driving fast.
Example : The Chase
When a car stops, no matter where or how, the tires will screech
It seems that the only way to stop a car in a movie is by slamming your foot as hard as possible on the brake pedal. This is why whenever you see a car come to a halt, you will hear the tell tale 'chirp' of the brakes locking and tires dragging the car to zero. And the tires will chirp wherever the car is driving, it doesn't matter if the car is on asphalt, ice, gravel, or dirt.
A fruit cart will be destroyed
Cars hate fruit carts. Cars hate fruit carts with a passion. A car in a chase will find any excuse to mow down any fruit carts in the vicinity. They aren't happy until apples and oranges are flying through the air and splattering on the ground. They hate fruit carts so much that the hatred spills over into any food related product that is sold on the street. This includes hot dog stands, ice cream vendors, and soda machines.
Cars are indestructible until they reach their destination
Movie cars have the hearts of athletes. They will refuse to die no matter what abuse is put on them. Being slammed into poles or jumping 20 feet to the ground has no adverse effect on the handling of the vehicle. The car will continue to persevere until the driver has reached the destination or the bad guys are no longer following.
Example: Gone in 60 Seconds(1974)
Cars are extremely flammable and explode when airborne or after rolling over
When a car leaps into the air or rolls onto it's roof, the odds of it exploding is 100 times greater than if it drove slowly through a burning warehouse filled with dynamite and gasoline. If a car goes airborne, the driver of the car is usually out of luck because the vehicle will blow up before it hits the ground. But if it merely rolls onto it's roof, the driver will have enough time to kick the door open and dive to safety just as the car bursts into flames.
Example: The Wraith
When a car crashes it will be launched airborne while spinning to the side
Movie cars dont just crash. They CRASH!. This often means that the vehicle will fly into the air. And just to make sure the audience is paying attention, it will do a 1/4 - 1/2 roll while airborne. This will happen whether the car is involved in a 5 mph rear end collision, or if a tire blows out on the freeway.
Example: Charlie's Angels
Heroes never get seriously injured in crashes
According to all those seat belt safety commercials, if you crash at 10 mph your head will go flying through the windshield. And even if you're wearing a seat belt, you won't be ballroom dancing anytime soon. But movie crashes are different. No matter how horrific the crash, the hero (or main badguy) will stumble away from the twisted wreck with at most a cut on the forehead and a torn shirt. Add the fact that most car chase drivers don't wear seat belts and you get a new respect for the apparent tank-like safety of cars on film.
Example: Exit Wounds
If a car goes over a hill, it will get airborne and land without any damage
Movie cars love to jump. It's in their blood. So of course they take to the air whenever possible. And sometimes they get airborne when its not possible. When most real cars crest a hill at high speed, they're lucky to get their 2000lb+ bodies a couple of inches off the pavement. But in films, that same hill means at least a 36 inch high, 10 foot long flight. And watch out if theres a flatbed trailer in the vicinity, because those things are just Evel Kneviel ramps waiting to happen.
Cars in a chase always have a full tank of gas
If you're in a chase, you can count on your car having a full tank and being in good repair. It doesnt matter its been taken directly out of a dealer's showroom, or car jacked as it pulls up into a gas station.
Example: Arlington Road
A large truck or 18 wheeler will somehow block the chase
In movie truck driving school, the first thing students are taught is how to be in the wrong place at the right time. During car chases, trucks are lurking in every alleyway and at every street corner, just waiting for the right moment to pull out and stop in the middle of the street, blocking traffic and allowing the lead car of a chase to escape.
Example: Gone In Sixty Seconds (2000)